In this rather disturbing article, The Guardian points out (amongst other hairy statistics) that 77% of self-published authors are making less than £600 per annum. In another article, the figures are a bit different, but no less pessimistic: it states that the median income of authors has dropped from just £6,000 13 years ago to less than £4,000 per annum. This means that for the vast majority of writers out there, even those who are actually managing to sell books in respectable numbers, they’re only making a fraction of they money they need to make in order to make a living.
Apart from the obviously negative associations with that, one has to wonder, what else are they doing? Either they must be in receipt of dole or bursaries, or they have another job.
I’d love to do a survey to find out what authors – authors of novels and poetry in particular – really do for money. Perhaps a look at the data would tell us not that writing doesn’t pay the bills, but rather might indicate the proper formula for balancing life as a writer with what else we must do (and often, it must be said, what we can also be very good at) in order to live.
Imagine the satisfaction of the following conversation. You’re at a snooty cocktail party, holding a diamond-encrusted glass of Cristal. A nasal whine arrives in your ear.
The Critic: “Well, helllleeeeugh. Ay am T.W. Pompington-Spendthrift. One hears yew are a write-air. Have ay heard of yew?”
The Writer: “Possibly not. I’m really only starting out.”
The Writer: “I self-published a novel last year. Contemporary fiction. You might not have seen it in the shops, but I managed to sell a few.”
The Critic: “Ah. But whot do yew do for mon-air?”
The Writer: “I have a full-time job as well. I write in my spare time.”
The Critic: “A full-time job? Reall-air? How awe-ful. End whot is that, precisely?”
The Writer: “I’m your bank manager, actually. And I have to tell you, you really should do something about that overdraft. It’s costing you a fortune, and your ongoing capital erosion is something shocking. At the rate you’re going, you’ll be selling off three-quarters of your assets at fire-sale prices by the end of the year.”
For my own part, I couldn’t imagine anything worse, or more destructive to creativity, than having to rely on my writing output in order to put food on the table. Writers often wonder whether having a full-time day job is conducive or obstructive when it comes to the writing life. I’m inclined to think that the structure and routine which accompanies a day job means that more writing gets done, because procrastination is less of an option. On the other hand, this may not work with tight writing deadlines. But I can’t imagine anything of value coming out of this writer’s brain if I were also struggling with the financial realities of being a full-time writer.
I’m sure there are other people who might view my situation with horror, trying to keep up what essentially amounts to 2 jobs. They are probably the people who work best when concentrating on the one thing. Having said that, many writers do some form of teaching, so that accounts for something.
I also wonder, however, what it’s like to sell your work in those circumstances. Job interviews are easier when you have a job, for instance, because people can smell desperation a mile off. The more relaxed you are, the more engaging you are, for the most part. The tone of this blog might be very different if I were under pressure to build up a following in order to sell books. And the tone of my novels might be very different if I were under pressure to sell them quickly.
So which type of writer, artist, or even serious hobbyist are you? Are you a double-jobbing or focused on your craft? And which do you think is best?